October 27, 2005 - From the October, 2005 issue

Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting Will Bring Great Ideas & People Together in L.A.

The Urban Land Institute is one of the world's premier organizations for the study of land use, real estate, and urban design, and its mission is to promote of responsible leadership in the use of land and, in short, to create better places. ULI's fall meeting will take place at the L.A. Convention Center November 1-4. Over 6,000 guests are expected to attend over 100 sessions, lectures, field trips, and networking events. President of the Ratkovich Company and ULI trustee Wayne Ratkovich gave TPR a preview of the event and an update on the organization.

Wayne Ratkovich

Wayne, you've been long active in the Urban Land Institute, locally, regionally, and nationally. A major ULI conference commences in Los Angeles November 1-4. Give our readers a sense of what the ULI Fall Meeting at the Convention Center will involve and what your hopes and expectations are for its proceedings.

The mission of the Urban Land Institute always comes into play, and it shapes every conference and every gathering. In short, the mission is to provide responsible leadership for the use of land. And I think that's essentially what we gather to learn about, talk about, and exchange ideas about. Certainly, that's the theme of this upcoming meeting including a great deal of focus on what ULI may be able to do for the cities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

You were part of a generation of modern developers in downtown L.A. 25 years ago who saw the potential of downtown. You're going to have a series of panel discussions about what are the catalytic land uses that have helped turn around downtowns and neighborhoods. What are the lesson that you've learned from your developments?

Ultimately and eventually the market in downtown Los Angles is becoming what we all hoped it would be, which is a vital and vibrant urban center. The last time the Urban Land Institute was in Los Angeles for a meeting, the downtown area was far different than what it is now. The attendance at the meeting was low and the reaction from the membership was very critical, leading some to say that ULI should never come back to Los Angeles. Today, that's a very, very different scenario, certainly spurred by Staples Center, the Walt Disney Hall and thousands of new residents. I'm getting calls every day now from people wondering which of these many restaurants in downtown Los Angeles I would recommend. There are so many now compared to so few the last time we were here. We hoped the urbanization of downtown would have happened faster, but it's finally arrived.

What is the relationship of design and architecture to the life of cities and to the revitalization of places like L.A.? You've invested in historic buildings. Can you share some insights re the value -added of design and architecture to urban revitalization efforts in downtowns across the country and in metro L.A.?

I'm sure you can. Essentially, we are all a part of an environment, and whether we're in a building or on a street, it is the environment we create within our cities that is critical. Those environments are shaped by all the tools that we – and good design is among the most important of the tools that are available to us. I think that is what distinguishes the most successful projects from those that struggle a bit. In almost every instance, good design, in my view, has paid handsomely for those who have employed it in a responsible, judicious, and thoughtful manner. The other thing that has contributed so much to the revitalization of urban areas in the last decade or so is simply demographics. We just have more people in a time of their lives – pre-family or post-family – for whom a city is a more attractive place to settle.

Wayne, you've been long involved in place-making and have addressed some of the challenges of infill. What's essential in developing spaces and places that attract and retain residents and enliven urban neighborhoods? What needs to happen between the buildings?

We benefit when we realize that cities exist for people. They don't exist for automobiles. They don't exist even for buildings. And when we can focus on an environment that's interesting and pleasing for people, we end up with successful projects and successful cities. Human beings have to come first, and as far as place-making is concerned, it's a pretty simple thing. We simply do those things that create those spaces that people enjoy.


What are some of the highlights of ULI's upcoming conference in L.A.? What might especially appeal to our readers?

These meetings tend to have very current information on the marketplace. And Southern California is a laboratory for real estate development, whether it's urban or suburban, so I think folks come here to be at the cutting edge of the real estate market. Regardless of what field they may be in, there's always something for everyone to learn from. There's quite a diverse amount of information, and Los Angeles always attracts a great deal of curiosity from around the country. Everybody seems to think that, while we may be a little goofy at times, we always seem to come up with stimulating ideas and trends.

ULI recently recruited and retained Los Angeles' respected and now former Director of City Planning, Con Howe, to serve as ULI's western regional director.

What will be Con's role in ULI, and what will be his relationship to the national organization and other offices nationwide?

ULI was founded in Chicago, but it's been headquartered, even though ULI does not do any lobbying, in Washington, D.C., for a very long time. The location in Washington, as one would expect, has tended to give the organization a lot of presence on the East Coast. The membership of ULI has grown over the years enormously on the West Coast. So Con's position was created – it did not exist before – to bring the organization, the staff, and the resources of ULI closer to the membership in the Western United States.

I think because Con is a former public official that he will bring a perspective that will be enlightening to those of us in the private sector. And I think at the same time it is going to be interesting for Con to see how the private sector functions from an insider's view. He will be a great addition to ULI and hopefully all the cities out here in the West.


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